Even if your idea of gardening is to pay someone to mow the lawn, hereâ€™s a horticultural-themed pastime you wonâ€™t mind getting stuck intoâ€¦ no green thumbs or sheep poo required. Plants vs. Zombies is a popular tower defence game which has been around for a couple of years now, and has featured on multiple platforms, the latest of which is the Nintendo DS.
The setting is somewhere in suburbia, where your home and garden are about to come under attack from the zombie horde in their relentless hunt for fresh, tasty brains. This is not your typical zombie apocalypse scenario, however.
The screen is divided into horizontal lanes, along which the undead slowly lurch (or pole-vault, swim, drive, bobsledâ€¦ and even boogie). Guns and explosives make way for a selection of special seeds, which are strategically sown in your manicured lawn to prevent the zombies from reaching your house.
Each plant has unique abilities; some are purely for defence, some have offensive capabilities and some generate units of sunlight, which is required to â€˜purchaseâ€™ the plants. Some plants sleep during the daytime and are only usable at night, and others still are aquatic, which must be placed in water. Oh, and thereâ€™s a different â€˜rechargeâ€™ period for each seed packet, too, which means you must consider timing as well as location.
Initially, you are given a limited number of plant slots and just a handful of seed packets to work with; however every completed level adds another seed packet to your arsenal, and extra slots can be purchased with money earned during play.
The ever expanding selection of plants is balanced nicely with an increasing number of undead types. Zombies can don armour in the form of road cones, buckets, and projectile repelling shields, and as the game progresses you can expect to see all many of weirdly attired zombies with a wide range of annoying talents, such as being able to summon a troupe of â€˜back-upâ€™ dancers, or use a balloon to float over your plants.
Thankfully, thereâ€™s a handy almanac to help keep track of the many varieties of plants and zombies, since trying to remember them all can melt your brain - not that it would bother the zombiesâ€¦ theyâ€™re not picky eaters.
Other variables throw a bit of spice into the mix. These include terrain obstacles such as gravestones, which canâ€™t be planted, and different locations such as the swimming pool and roof. Further challenge is provided with the introduction of fog, which blankets a good portion of the play field, thus reducing the amount of time you have to react.
Itâ€™s not a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination, but thereâ€™s a fair bit of strategy required â€“ particularly in latter levels, where you must select the right plants for the job, and ensure optimal placement. Failure to do so will see you watch helplessly as the zombies munch their way through your plants and into your houseâ€¦ Nooooo!
Playing the adventure mode will unlock other features, such as vs. mode, which enables you to face off against another player; and the mini-games, which Iâ€™m happy to report arenâ€™t tacked-on as an afterthought. Theyâ€™re substantial, fun to play and challenging as well.
Other features include Survival mode, which is an endurance event against an endless horde of zombies; Zen Garden, and Puzzle mode. Thereâ€™s even a Zombatar feature, which allows you to play dress-ups with a zombie head. The latter is a bit â€˜mehâ€™ but the kids might enjoy itâ€¦ for a while. Ordinarily, I would complain (loudly) about the extras being unavailable from the outset, but the main game is sufficiently engaging that you donâ€™t mind having to work your way through numerous levels to gain access.
Controls are via the touch screen and occasionally the dodgy mic. The stylus works extremely well with this version of the game; nothing could be easier than dragging your selected seed across the screen to plant it. I wasnâ€™t too impressed with having to shout (yes, shout) into the mic, however; not something youâ€™d want to do in a public place, unless you donâ€™t mind risking arrest for disorderly conduct.
Admittedly, the graphics arenâ€™t on par with the PC version, but theyâ€™re absolutely fine for the compact DS screens. Be warned though, it can be a little difficult to distinguish between some of the plantsâ€¦ and some of the zombies too, for that matter. Sound effects such as rotting appendages dropping off, and the comedic-but-creepy background music donâ€™t have much impact when piped through the dinky speakers, but again, itâ€™s perfectly adequate for this platform.
In summary, the gameâ€™s many levels and wide variety of zombie-crushing activities represent good value for money. Itâ€™s simple to play, highly addictive, and entertaining... and best of all, itâ€™s portable. I can thoroughly recommend this version of Plants vs. Zombies as an excellent productivity killer.